One of the most painful experiences in life is betrayal. When our love and trust is betrayed by someone we hold dear, be it a parent, a partner or a friend, it cuts deep into the fabric of our very being. Everything is questioned; the fact that this person is capable of such viciously deceptive and cold behaviour, the entire nature of the past relationship and your own naivety in thinking that compassion and love would encourage the other to be kind back, despite the madness that slowly engulfed them.
And then, hot on the heels of betrayal, after the first surges of anger have died away, comes the urge to recapture a measure of inner peace to help heal the wounds. One of the most moving moments of the past months was watching President Obama sing Amazing Grace at the commemoration service for the shot members of the Charleston Church congregation. Their willingness to choose love over hate, to forgive rather than resent was inspiring. I don’t question their integrity, no one can see inside another’s heart. But it also raises questions, especially as I stand at the beginning of a process to understand the betrayal of a loved one; my psyche bombed into a tattered confetti of emotions.
I am curious to explore who it is in me that also might be so ready to ‘forgive’ and move on.
Denial is not forgiveness
Anyone who has woken up the morning after a bombshell, recognises those few moments of calm before ‘the thing’ hits you fully in the stomach and you wish to return to the blissful forgetfulness of sleep. Denial is a little bit like allowing yourself to go back to sleep. To pretend that the thing that happened didn’t happen. So ‘let’s pretend you didn’t just break my heart and behave as if nothing has happened’ is not forgiveness. It is a retrograde move and though understandable, it is sidestepping the process of allowing all the pain, confusion and anger to wash through your psyche. If you intend to do this with awareness you may find that one day you wake up and realise you no longer feel the sting. But it takes time and the Denier sub-personality* in me only delays the process.
Forgiving because we ‘should’
The author and Transpersonal therapist Rashna Imhasly-Gandhy writes; “Betrayal is one of the most difficult archetypes to overcome in close relationships and if it is not worked through the energy can turn into revenge, bitterness or cynicism.” This triple cocktail turned inwards can make us physically as well as psychically ill. ‘I suppose I should forgive him/her/them because it will be better for me?’ True, and not true. There is so much hurt in the world; parents who have not behaved as parents should, partners that betray the trust of their loved ones, neighbours that find themselves on opposing sides of ethnic conflicts, the list is endless. We constantly hurt and disappoint others. Others hurt and disappoint us. And once we have awoken ourselves out of Denial, we are in danger of becoming caught up in a constant cycle of action and reaction.
One of the human archetypes described in the Gene Key system has ‘Reaction’ as its lowest expression; an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. At a more evolved level the same archetype leads to ‘Revolution’. Eyes may still be forked out, but some teeth might stay. At the level of Revolution we are able to distinguish what needs to go and what might profitably be kept. But it requires discrimination and intelligent appraisal. It also needs the loving energy of the intention to forgive, although it is not yet forgiveness. The intention to forgive requires the courage to include and survey all that is rotten, in order to see what might still be whole and what needs to be killed off. Insights from that process may well lead to the third unhealthy motivation to forgive; the repeat of the pubescent gamble to sacrifice safety for freedom.
Forgiving out of fear.
The deepest and most painful part that wants to forgive is often at the level of unfinished business from childhood. So we dig even deeper. I, dig deeper. There is strong independent love and there is co-dependent love. As children we fear the loss of our parents’ care above anything else. After all, abandonment equals annihilation. Buried so deep within our psyche is a need to feel safe and comforted by a significant other. At puberty we are internally driven to forsake this attachment to our parents in order to achieve our freedom as individuals. Good parenting raises children who find that their love springs from within. But despite our own and our parents’ best efforts, many of us have self-parts that are still looking for a hook-up for their untethered umbilical cord.
So frightening is this process of Individuation that we just transfer our attachment onto someone more fitting for our age. We find a lover. A partner. A husband or wife. Infatuation causes exactly the same hormones and neurotransmitters to flood the body as our primary merging with our caregiver did in infancy. ‘Being in love’, from a purely biological perspective, is the same as being ‘merged’ with the mothering principle as a new-born infant. And when the infatuation wears off, we have still have the same job to do. We need to deal with our unfinished and transferred parental attachment; and face the fear of abandonment and annihilation. Or fall in love again, and again, and again…
So rather than break the attachment this co-dependent self-part will forgive from a place of neediness rather than strength. Accepting anything just to feel safe and thus dancing hand in hand with Denial and Pleaser to pretend all is well. Despite serial offenders whose ‘Mea Culpa’s’ are worth as little as the old Catholic Indulgences handed out like sweets, we endure, forgive, and continue to hope.
With increasing degrees of madness, and in escalating cycles of hurt and disappointment this pattern will persist until finally we understand that the fear of abandonment is just another thing to be faced and survived. We are never alone. And we are always alone. A wonderful paradox that only a true eyeball to eyeball contact with your abandonment fears can teach. And after all, since each new disappointment is another abandonment, you might as well get on and deal with it from within, rather than expect the comfort to come from without.
So as I explore each tendency to forgive I begin to see the lessons that need to be learned. I begin the process and journey ahead, a journey that may, or may not, end in forgiveness. As Spirit teaches in Ave’Eva, ‘it’s the journey, not the destination dear.’ In the end, what we seek is Forgiveness for the vain fallible creatures that we are. The reaction/revolution archetype has, as its highest expression, the essence of forgiveness. In its purest form it is a loving energy that has forgiven even before any pain has been inflicted. It is forgiveness that is almost beyond human comprehension. And it is the love that allows us to take these inward journeys into the self. It is the love that allows us to let go of anger and pain once their usefulness has outlived their purpose. Forgiveness is the healthy by-product of an honest inner process that explores, invites, sits with and defuses the adrenaline filled spin cycle of emotions. The Forgiveness that is inherent in our very being can suffuse us as we move through this process. It has nothing to do with the ‘other’ and everything to do with your ‘self’.
And so at the level of the personality it takes the time it takes. And at the level of a place Beyond it has already happened. Our job is to walk the path of the personality, inspired by the Love of the place Beyond.
One day I might realise that I have successfully met the fears that made me compromise my true self and allow betrayal into my life. One day I might be able to take ownership of my own part in the sorry affair. The triggers for shame and low self-esteem will have been bound up and anointed by an inner love that is forgiveness in its purest form. And when we realise that we become free.
Our forgiveness is not incumbent upon the other.
It has nothing to do with the other.
And it has everything to do with the intention to love yourself fully and thus find the Individuated Love and Power to let others be who they are.
Maybe the people of Charleston truly know of this great hidden mystery and responded to it. It will inspire me to walk the same path and one day know that Amazing Grace has touched the parts that needed to Deny, Please, and fearfully look for safety outside of myself.